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Milwaukee County Leaders Want 1 Percent Sales Tax Hike

LaToya Dennis
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the city will be faced with really difficult decisions if it does not get a new revenu source

Milwaukee County leaders want to put a binding referendum on the ballot that would raise the county sales tax by 1%. But before the county can take that step, it needs approval from the state legislature.

City and county officials say the goal is to not only reduce the property tax here, but to also create a new source of revenue.

According to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, property taxes here are the fifth highest in the country while the sales tax is one of the lowest. He says it’s time to level out the imbalance a bit more while also creating a new revenue source.

"Your sales tax is still probably bottom 10 in the country. And about a third of the sales tax that gets paid are for people who come into Milwaukee County who don’t live there," Abele says. "And with that, we’re going to be able to improve services and for the county’s part, yeah sure, it’s deferred maintenance and its parks and it’s restoring transit so people can get to work. It’s keeping up with public safety and it’s delivering tax payers who live in Wisconsin and live in Milwaukee County the government they deserve."

It’s estimated that the proposed 1% sales tax hike could bring in $160 million in it’s first year.

Amongst city and village leaders that make up the county, questions remain about how their constituents might be impacted.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says he understands the concerns but he’s hopeful state lawmakers will approve the referendum.

"We are not asking for additional state dollars. What we’re asking is the legislature to give us the authority to go to the residents of this county and have the residents make a decision as to whether they want to have a sales tax," he says. "And I’ll be very specific, next year I would be using this money to make sure that we don’t have severe cuts in our police department, to make sure that we can buy an additional vehicle for our fire department and to do more paving of streets."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said the proposal will be a hard sell. Back in 2008, Milwaukee County residents approved an advisory referendum that would have increased the sales tax by 1% to fund parks. That non-binding measure died at the state level under Republican control.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.